The Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) is an annual event coordinated by Wetlands International. Each year in January, volunteers from across Asia and
Australasia will conduct the AWC in their respective
countries. I am no scientist but I derive endless fascination from birds. That
is why whenever I can, I do my part and help out in some conservation work. The
AWC and My Garden Birdwatch (MYGB) are just some of the citizen scientist
projects that I commit myself to. For the AWC this year, we did counts at two
sites. Together with Dave and Hor Kee, we started off the first count at the
sandy shores of Kuala Muda in mainland Penang.
Once we got ourselves comfortable, it was down to business. Here, on the exposed sandbars, a high concentration of terns rest in between feedings and tides. Egrets and a small number of waders will also use these resting stations. The count was conducted from the shore and it was a fair distance from the birds. There is no point to risk spooking the birds when doing a count. Stationery birds are much easier to count than flying ones - believe me. By mid morning, we concluded the count here. It was a good session as there were about 3,000 terns present consisting mostly of Common Terns and as well as a few Brown-headed Gulls.
The resident dark-morphed Pacific Reef Egret provided the photographic highlight for me after the count. This coastal species is the rarest egret after the globally endangered Chinese Egret in Peninsula
. The coastline here is one of
the few spots in Malaysia Penang where it is regularly
The elevated rocky outcrops next to the coastline where the egret had landed to forage provided the ideal cover for me to sneak up on my subject and successfully obtained my best images of this species to date. Being the only the egret in
with two colour morphs makes it unique and it is a species that I have always
wanted to obtain good images. Looks like I got my wish today... Malaysia
We had a few hours to kill before the next session of our AWC. The nearby paddy field was a very inviting option to pass the time. Upon our arrival, a flock of about 60 Asian Openbills were seen riding the thermals further confirming the fact that these enigmatic storks are still present in my home state. The paddy fields had quite a number of egrets about. Here is an image depicting the differences between the Great Egret and the Intermediate Egret.
I had a frustrating time trying to obtain decent shots of the Red-throated Pipit during my last birding trip that is at the grasslands of Chuping in Perlis. We came across a handful of these uncommon migrants again today but unfortunately, they are not any better than their northern comrades. I will get you guys one day...
Our second AWC session was by boat as we counted roosting waders along the Bagan Belat Important Bird Area (IBA) coastline which was not too far from the first count site. We were joined by Choo Eng and a few others including representatives from the local council. It is part of the Malaysian Nature Society's effort to get this site protected and turned it into some kind of an ecological reserve for tourists and future generations to enjoy - with the help of the local council.
Our 'guests' were in for a treat as we came across a few high tide roosts that had thousands of waterbirds. As we were doing the count on a boat, good images of individual species were difficult to obtain due to the distance and the constant rocking of the boat.
No matter what the distance, the Eurasian Curlew is almost impossible to miss because it is one of the largest waders in
and with a bill that is almost
as long as its body. Malaysia
A flock of Bar-tailed Godwits was looking very comfortable roosting at the water's edge. This is another species that spots an impressive looking bill.
Flocks of Common Redshanks are another species that were easy to pick out because of their vocal nature and distinct colouration.
This distant shot is of a flock of Common Greenshanks and Marsh Sandpipers. There were no Nordmann's Greenshanks here as initially thought (Thanks, Dave for the correction).
The Asian Dowitcher is another scarce winter migrant to
and deserves just as much
Larger waterbirds were easier subjects for our guests to observe and appreciate. The resident Grey Herons were certainly one of them.
The Great Egrets also did their part to help keep the boat trip interesting...
We, on the other hand, required no such motivation to earn our undivided attention. The presence of 10,000 waders was more than what we could ever ask for. This was certainly a much better session of our AWC - as expected. Another exciting discovery was the 300 Brown-headed Gulls resting at one of the high tide roosts. This is probably the highest concentration of gulls in
A few of the gulls were quite near to our boat and they provided some great photographic opportunities.
This is a juvenile as it lacks the characteristic wing 'mirrors' of the adult bird.
Some were also swimming in the vicinity like this juvenile that has just caught quite a sizable meal. Beginner's luck, perhaps?
And if that was not enough, there were at least three of the much rarer Black-headed Gulls present as well. This adult bird was flying not too far from our boat and provided the only image I could obtain of them.
Initially, only the commoner terns were counted like this Common Tern...
That was until our boat passed some mussel farms out at sea. Consisting of cement poles jutting out from the water, they provided the perfect perches for the sea-loving terns to rest on.
The majority of the terns recorded here were the Great Crested Terns - much to our delight.
Beautiful and majestic even in non-breeding plumage, this uncommon species provided the photographic highlights for the afternoon session.
The poles were quite crowded as there were about 55 Great Crested Terns present in the vicinity. Squabbles for space were inevitable…
Among the Great Crested Terns, there was a lone Lesser Crested Tern which is the rarer of the two species. It was almost too good to be true as I have had very little photographic opportunities with both species in the past. And now, here they are together at the same spot and so obliging. Truly a magical moment…
The Common Terns that were also making full use of the poles and are dwarfed by the larger Crested Terns. The former are outnumbered here because they prefer roosting on the sandbanks of Kuala Muda where we conducted the first session of the count.
A lone Whiskered Terns was present as well and I took a few shots of this widespread marsh tern just as we were about to head back to the jetty. This year's AWC was probably the most memorable and rewarding one that I have ever had. It just goes to show that it does pay to give back to Mother Nature once in a while.